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February 2, 2015

What constitutes Medical Malpractice?


Every doctor and similar medical professional has the responsibility to act with a certain duty of care. This duty of care is to perform in a way that a similarly situated medical professional with reasonable skill and competence would have performed under the same circumstances. When a doctor fails to uphold this standard of care[1] and a patient suffers unnecessary injury, medical malpractice occurs.

Medical errors can be minor or they can be severe, even causing the death of a patient who otherwise would have survived. In an article regarding medical malpractice, Forbes Magazine reported[2] that an estimated 200,000 people die as a result of medical errors on an annual basis. Even if patients survive the medical error, such mistakes can cause unnecessary complications, can exacerbate medical conditions, or even cause new illnesses or injuries that otherwise would not have been suffered.

Though medical malpractice is relatively rare—as most medical professionals do meet the appropriate standard of care—it is important to be educated on the different types of medical malpractice and how they can affect you a loved one. The following are brief overviews of the most common types of medical malpractice in the United States

Failure to diagnose, delay in diagnosis, or misdiagnosis

Medical Malpractice When you go to an emergency department or doctor’s office presenting certain symptoms, the doctor should ask all of the appropriate questions, run all of the proper tests, and take any other necessary steps to accurately and completely diagnose your condition. Unfortunately, some medical professionals do not delve deep enough into a patient’s medical history or symptoms to correctly diagnose their condition in a timely fashion.

For example, the symptoms of a minor heart attack are often similar to that of acid reflux. Too often, doctors diagnose a patient with acid reflux and send them home with medication, only to have the patient have a more severe heart event at a later date. On many occasions, if the doctor had performed tests such as an electrocardiogram or an angiogram, or had simply asked more about the patient’s family medical history, the first heart attack would have been easily diagnosed and the patient would have received proper treatment to avoid future episodes.

Diagnosis issues often cause additional complications because it causes a delay in the proper treatment for a patient’s illness. For instance, if a cancer patient receives a diagnosis at stage one, the disease can often be successfully treated. If a doctor error causes the diagnosis to be delayed to stage four, the patient has a much lesser chance of survival even with treatment.

Surgical errors

Doctors can make many mistakes during surgery that can lead to greater injury for a patient. If it is a simple mistake, it will likely not rise up to the level of medical malpractice. However, if a doctor uses poor judgment during a surgery and does not perform as a surgeon should, it is likely that medical malpractice occurred. Some examples of surgical malpractice include being distracted, fatigued, or even impaired during a procedure or allowing an unqualified assistant to perform tasks during the procedure. Surgical errors can result in the following and more:Surgical Errors

  • Operating on the wrong side of the body or even the completely wrong body part
  • Performing the wrong procedure on the wrong patient
  • Puncturing organs near the surgery
  • Leaving instruments or objects inside the body
  • Mistakes involving surgical robots[3] or other technologies
  • Not performing appropriate care post-operation resulting in infection

All of these mistakes can cause serious complications for a patient, even if they were only undergoing a minor procedure. Furthermore, particularly ill, elderly, or other relatively weak patients may not survive such surgical mistakes.

Errors involving medication

A study conducted in 2006[4] estimated that approximately 1.5 million individuals suffer harm from medication errors on an annual basis in the United States. The processes of distributing and administrating prescription medication have many opportunities for harmful errors. Some of the most common medication errors include the following:

  • A medical professional prescribes the incorrect medication for the condition.
  • A doctor fails to inquire into patient allergies or other medications that may react with the newly prescribed medication.
  • A doctor prescribes the incorrect dosage for a particular patient.
  • A nurse or another hospital staff member administers the incorrect medication or dosage despite having a correct prescription.
  • Medical equipment meant to automatically administer medication malfunctions, which often results in a patient receiving too large of a dose in too short a time.

Medication is often an integral part of a patient’s treatment, stabilization, and more. When medication errors occur because doctors or other medical professionals are not sufficiently careful, patients can suffer serious injury and complications.

Childbirth Injuries

Statistics indicate that an estimated 28,000 children[5] are born with birth injuries every year in the United States. A large number of these birth injuries are caused due to medical malpractice. Medical malpractice can lead to childbirth injuries in many different ways, including the following:

  • Failing to identify medical conditions of the mother during pregnancy, including preeclampsia, anemia, hypoglycemia, gestational diabetes, ectopic pregnancies, and more.
  • Failing to identify significant birth defects that would require special treatment or consideration during pregnancy.
  • Failing to otherwise provide proper prenatal care.
  • Failing to properly identify potential complications during childbirth (i.e. umbilical cord around the baby’s neck) and prepare for them as such.
  • Not properly monitoring the condition of both mother and child during labor and delivery.
  • Not responding to distress on the part of the mother or child in a timely fashion.
  • Improper use of a vacuum or forceps during childbirth.
  • Not ordering a cesarean section in a timely manner when appropriate.

Such mistakes during pregnancy and childbirth can result in numerous injuries to the mother and child. Some of these injuries, such as cerebral palsy,[6] Erb’s Palsy,[7] spinal cord injuries, and perinatal asphyxia,8 can affect a child for the rest of his or her life.

As you can see, medical malpractice can have serious effects on a patient and you should never hesitate to speak up if you believe your doctor is not performing in an adequate manner.


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